4 Reasons Missionaries Should Prioritize Support from Local Churches
This article originally appeared at The Gospel Coalition.
Most missionaries raise financial support for their personal and ministry expenses overseas. As a leader of a missions agency, I’ve had conversations with many people entering this phase in ministry. One of the questions I’m asked most often is why someone should prioritize raising support from local churches over individuals.
It’s helpful to acknowledge that missions history is full of stories of individual gospel patrons who’ve supported the work of missionaries. Even Jesus and the apostles were supported by individuals (Luke 8:3; Rom. 16:2). In no way do I want to discourage Christians from giving directly, sacrificially, and generously to missionaries.
However, I encourage missionaries to develop meaningful partnerships with local churches as they raise support. Here are four reasons why.
1. Assessment and Accountability
Compared to individual donors, churches are in a better position to assess the character and competencies of missionaries. More specifically, a church’s elders are better suited for this than friends and family. A missionary should be sent out by a local church, not just by a group of disconnected individuals.
A church’s elders might involve a committee to make recommendations concerning which missionaries to support. But ultimately, the men who shepherd the local church are in the best position to assess character and competency because they’ve been affirmed as those who possess these qualities.
I’ve been sharpened by sitting with pastors from various congregations who intentionally ask questions about my personal spiritual disciplines, my leadership in the home, and my work. They press in on areas where they see an opportunity for improvement and encourage me by their discernment.
While missionaries can absolutely have encouraging conversations like these with individual supporters, they stand to gain by establishing accountability relationships with entire congregations and their elders.
2. Practical Partnership
Churches increase the opportunities for practical partnership. A congregation comprises members with different competencies and connections; their various gifts and abilities can be of great assistance to those serving overseas.
Whether a missionary is looking for professional help with a business or asking for meaningful assistance through a short-term team, local churches are the logical first place to inquire for help. In my experience, they consistently seek to deploy their members to help the missionaries they support.
Churches also represent a greater number of prayer partners. A missionary with 100 individual donors could likely expect those supporters to pray for her. But by simply adding one local church to her support base, she could greatly increase the number of people praying for her on a regular basis.
3. Ease of Connectivity
Imagine two different scenarios for a missionary family raising $75,000.
In the first, their local church contributes $15,000 for the year. The family then raises the rest of their support through individual donations. The remaining $60,000 would require 100 donors to contribute an average of $50 a month, or $600 a year.
In the second scenario, the family is supported by their sending church and four other local churches, with the remainder raised through gifts from individuals. If the sending church contributes $15,000 for the year and four other churches contribute $6,000 each, then only $36,000 remains to be raised through individual donors. At an average annual gift of $600 each, that would be 60 individuals.
In scenario one, there are 101 relationships (100 individuals and one church). In scenario two, 65. That’s 36, or just over a third, fewer people to check in with throughout the hustle and bustle of language learning, culture acquisition, and ministry overseas. It’s 36 fewer visits, lunches, or coffee meetings when on home assignment. I’ve seen firsthand the burden missionaries feel to personally visit supporters when they’re home. By being supported more through churches than individuals—and especially by churches that give generously—missionaries can minimize that stress.
4. Mutual Encouragement
In Philippians 4:15–20, Paul writes,
You Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macdeonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Any my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul commends the Philippian church for their continual generosity. Not only was he helped in his need but they were bearing fruit through their giving. You can’t help but notice the mutual encouragement in these verses. Paul’s ministry needs were met, and the Philippian church rejoiced for the part they played in what the Lord was doing.
This mutual encouragement and shared harvest still happens today as faithful missionaries are supported through the generosity of local churches. This doesn’t mean missionaries should stop seeking support from friends and family. But they’d do well to prioritize raising support from local churches for the accountability, partnership, connectivity, and encouragement that can be gained there.
I’m aware of the various complexities that arise in support raising. Not every church can write a substantial check for a sent-out worker, though they should seek to give sacrificially. Meanwhile, some missionaries don’t have relationships with other churches besides their sending church. But many pastors do, and they can encourage those connections. When that happens, I’ve witnessed local associations, relationships, and networks that are mutually encouraged when the churches in that region support each other’s missionaries, all to the glory of God.
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